Francesco Spagnolo, Curator

Closed (1) The Jewish World and the #DigitalHumanities | The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life

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The Undergraduate Research Apprentice will conduct in-house and online research about the holdings of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life; assist with research on collection items, catalog and accession records; fact-check existing information in museum catalogs, books, and online resources; and proofread exhibition labels and web pages.

In-depth research areas encompass Jewish history and culture in the global Jewish diaspora, with an emphasis on Digital Humanities tools, methodologies, and critical perspectives. Specific areas of collection-based research includes diverse mediums (paintings, sculpture, material culture, textiles, rare books, manuscripts, photographs, ephemera, and more) as well as areas and languages from the global Jewish diaspora (Europe, the Mediterranean, North Africa, the Middle East, India, and the Americas).

Research is directly supervised by the Curator of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, and by Graduate Fellows.

The Apprentice will also be involved in the creation of several current and upcoming research and exhibitions projects, including:

- The Karaite Canon: an exhibition based on the holdings of The Magnes Collection, highlighting an important collection of manuscripts and ritual objects collected from the Karaite community in Cairo, Egypt.

- High Holy Days at the Luna Park: show card posters from the Firschein Press, a printing shop owned and operated by an East-European Jewish immigrant family in Brooklyn, NY, during the 20th century.

- Silent Voices Speak: a collection of mixed-media works by artist Barbara Shilo based on archival photographs of the Holocaust.

- Magic Spells: Hebrew Amulets from the global Jewish diaspora.

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About The Magnes

The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life was established in 2010 after the transfer of the holdings of the Judah L. Magnes Museum to the University of California, Berkeley. Its remarkably diverse archive, library and museum holdings include art, objects, texts, music, and historical documents about the Jews in the Global Diaspora and the American West. As one of the world's preeminent Jewish collections in a university setting, The Magnes provides highly innovative and accessible resources to researchers and visitors, is the site of classes taught through UC Berkeley academic departments, and organizes working groups with faculty and graduate students. The former Judah L. Magnes Museum, one of the first Jewish museums in the United States, was founded in Berkeley in 1962.

The research apprentice will have the opportunity to work hands-on with primary sources from the global Jewish Diaspora, including rare objects, documents, photographs, books, manuscripts, and artwork from the 16th century to our days. The apprenticeship offers a unique chance to learn about collection research, exhibition preparation, and print and online publication work, operating in a collaborative environment and with cutting-edge digital humanities tools and perspectives. Apprentices are expected to work a minimum of six hours per week.

Qualifications: We seek students with good collaborative and communication skills, and with strong interest and research skills in European, Near Eastern and American history, art history, anthropology, and, of course, Jewish studies. We welcome students with language skills that may include Hebrew, Yiddish, German, Arabic and Malayalam. Students who are familiar with digital tools (digitization, image processing, HTML, QR coding, WordPress and Drupal) are also welcome to apply, regardless of their language or culturally-specific skills.

Weekly Hours: 6-9 hrs

Off-Campus Research Site: The Magnes is located between Campus and BART at 2121 Allston Way.

Related website: http://magnes.berkeley.edu
Related website: http://flickr.com/magnesmuseum

Closed (2) Digital Bridges: (In)Visible Archives & Public Repertoires | The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life

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The Undergraduate Research Apprentice will support research on the impact of new modalities of media-based access to archived collections stored in public venues, based on collaborative projects conducted at The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, UC Berkeley, by Francesco Spagnolo, together with the Berkeley Center for New Media (Prof. Greg Niemeyer).

Research will be based on the study of data collected by creating an environment in which museum-goers (UC Berkeley faculty and students, as well as members of the general community) are encouraged to digitally explore cultural objects kept in the collection storage areas of The Magnes. Data will be collected by making stored collections visible through the integration of iBeacon and Virtual Reality approaches.

In the course of the academic year, we plan to investigate the modes of digital interaction between on-site storage and visitorship through the following research activities:

- Investigate the use of iBeacon (Bluetooth LE)-based digital access to select objects kept in the collection storage areas: in collaboration with BodhiSteps (an emerging, out-of-the-box, mobile platform created by Georgia Tech graduate students, presently developed in Berkeley and Mumbai, India). While current museum uses of iBeacons focus on items on display (see experiments by The Met, and the V&A), our planned implementation aims at integrating digital “behind-the-scenes” views of items in collection storage, thus enhancing the physical presence of the storage itself as an integral part of the facility and of the “politics of display.”

- Explore virtual reality approaches to select collection items: in partnership with Citizen Film (San Francisco), in the context of the New Media in Jewish Studies initiative. This exploration will initially focus on presenting recent research on Hebrew illustrated manuscripts - which are sensitive to light and can only be physically displayed for short periods of time - in an innovative and compelling context. VR displays of stored manuscript sources will be triggered via ibeacon access.

- Evaluate user experience modalities and manage datasets collected with iBeacons: with undergraduate students enrolled in URAP and graduate students. Data collected will be based on the structuring of the metadata made available via iBeacons, and address the following areas: visitor access to stored collections; surface/in-depth exploration of available digital surrogates; public use of database links; public use of social media links; and crowdsourcing capabilities.

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Background Information

The staggering disparity between what cultural heritage collections hold in their storage facilities and what they are able to publicly display (typically 5% or less of their total holdings) is a well-known fact. In an attempt to bridge the gap between invisible archived collection and public performative display areas, cultural heritage institutions worldwide have implemented varying degrees of “visible storage” designs along with web-based interactive programs. However, on-site digital access tends to focus on the items on display, while the digital exploration of collections kept in storage areas is intended as an online (and often off-site) activity. Rather than narrowing it, this approach may in fact widen the gap between traditional exhibition displays and digital access.

The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at UC Berkeley is one of the largest Jewish museum collections in the world, and the only one embedded in a research university. A teaching museum and a research laboratory focusing on global diasporas, material cultures, and digital humanities, it includes over 15,000 objects (ritual objects, textiles, sculptures, and paintings) drawings, prints, photographs, books, manuscripts, archival collections, sound recordings, and reference works. Approximately 300 items in the collection are on display at any given time, and 95% of the total holdings are accessible on-site (by appointment) in the Helzel Collection Study. Circa 8,000 digital surrogates representing collection holdings are available online, and The Magnes is actively, and successfully, raising funds and recruiting new staff to make more of its holdings digitally accessible. The design of the facility of The Magnes (inaugurated in 2012) devotes much of its real estate to collection storage, making it visible to visitors behind large glass panels. Alongside rotating research-based exhibitions that feature select collection objects, visitors are able to see where the quasi totality of the remaining holdings are permanently stored, and can witness in real time the research work done by curators, collections staff, and scholars (UC Berkeley faculty and students). However, four years since the facility opened, the proximity and the relations between visible storage and public display areas remain hard to grasp for most visitors. This seems to indicate that the metaphor of the “dusty archive” continues to maintain a strong hold in the field of cultural heritage.

Such challenges present unique research opportunities in the area of digital humanities approaches to archives and repertoires in the storage of and access to cultural objects.

Research on "Digital Bridges" is designed to investigate direct impacts of an integrated use of iBeacon access, and to engage Undergraduate Students in investigating the relationship between metadata and cultural heritage, beyond the current scope of the successful Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (URAP) at The Magnes.

The ability to enable iBeacon/VR access is essential in exploring how to make stored collections visible to the public. Visibility will in turn the enable data collection. Students will work with curatorial staff and faculty in structuring the metadata associated with the stored collections made available to the public, thus informing the ways in which visitor-generated data about collection storage is collected, interpreted and activated.

The research scope of Digital Bridges is therefore two-pronged. On one hand, we plan to investigate, and to question, the efficacy of emerging technologies (combining iBeacon and VR) in overcoming the barriers between storage and display, archive and repertoire, research and curation. On the other hand, this effort will allow us to also research how metadata-based access enables a deeper engagement with cultural objects, building upon the “loop” between analog museum objects, on-site exhibitions, digital research, and online dissemination, which was begun in 2015 with The Future of Memory.

The research apprentice will have the opportunity to work hands-on with primary sources from the global Jewish Diaspora, including rare objects, documents, photographs, books, manuscripts, and artwork from the 16th century to our days, and to create descriptive metadata to be made accessible by the public, online and on site. The apprenticeship offers a unique chance to learn about collection research, museums, online publication, operating in a collaborative environment and with cutting-edge digital humanities tools and perspectives. Apprentices are expected to work a minimum of six hours per week.

Qualifications: We seek students with good collaborative and communication skills, who are interested in cultural heritage and museum studies, and who are familiar with digital tools (digitization, image processing, HTML, QR coding, WordPress and Drupal).

Weekly Hours: 6-9 hrs

Off-Campus Research Site: The Magnes is located between Campus and BART at 2121 Allston Way.

Related website: http://magnes.berkeley.edu
Related website: http://magnes.berkeley.edu/digital-programs/magnes-360